This afternoon I was fortunate enough to obtain a ticket to a NASA employee advanced screening of The Martian in the IMAX Theater at the KSC Visitor's Center. Not only did we get to see the movie before it officially comes out in theaters, but we also got to hear from a panel of experts about the reality of the technologies shown in the movie. The panel consisted of both NASA people and actors from the movie:
- Jim Green (Director of NASA's Planetary Sciences Division)
- Nicole Stott (NASA Astronaut)
- Chiwetel Ejiofor (plays Vincent Kapoor, the Head of the NASA Mars Program in the movie)
- Bob Cabana (NASA Astronaut and current Center Director of Kennedy Space Center)
- Mackenzie Davis (plays Mindy Park in the movie)
- Dave Lavery (the real Head of the NASA Mars Program)
- We also had special quest in the audience with us, Buzz Aldrin
Having the Q&A panel before the screening of the movie set the stage so well for what we were about to see. Much of the movie demonstrates technologies that are required for a human mission to Mars and this panel pointed out that virtually everything in the movie is a REAL technology already in development by NASA. While The Martian may be science fiction, the world in which it takes place is in our very near future.
I also have a personal connection with this movie and some of the NASA events that have been announced this week. In the summer of 2010 I was working for Jim Green, the Director of NASA's Planetary Sciences Division at NASA HQ in Washington D.C. as part of a temporary rotational assignment. I was sitting in his office one afternoon helping to plan out a monthly review meeting for the division when a group of people rather hastily came into his office. They wanted to show him something amazing...photographic evidence of liquid water on the surface of Mars! I can't begin to explain how exciting it was to be a part of that initial briefing about the first images from the Mars orbiting MRO spacecraft that showed what appeared to be evidence of recently flowing water on Mars. I had to stay quite about this information and after many months and then years passed I started to wonder if they would ever be able to confirm what those orbital images suggested. Then earlier this week the official announcement came out. You see, it takes time to confirm what is going on when you are 30 million miles away from the planetary surface you are trying so desperately to learn about. Real science from that distance takes time. This is also evident from the fact that it will be another year or more before we get all the data back from the very brief encounter that New Horizons had with Pluto earlier this summer. If we had people on the surface of Mars, what took us 5 years to confirm could have been accomplished in just a few minutes or a few hours. But as you will see when you watch The Martian, human space exploration is extremely complicated.
We live in an extremely exciting time. No, we aren't racing to the Moon like we were in the Apollo days but we are making very meaningful advances in both out scientific knowledge of our universe and in the technologies needed to explorer it further. I never could have imagined growing up as a kid that fell in love with astronomy and anything related to space that one day I would be working for NASA and sitting in the Director's office when the first evidence of liquid water on the surface of Mars came in. The next big announcement I am waiting for is for us to find life in our Solar System, and I think we will find life right here in our little celestial neighborhood in my lifetime.
Of course, I have read the book The Martian and even posted a review right here on my blog. I highly recommend the book, whether you choose to read it before or after you see the movie.